Mudcat Café message #789497 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #50747   Message #789497
Posted By: John Minear
23-Sep-02 - 07:50 AM
Thread Name: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
I was just over in Berea, KY last week to look at some dulcimers and on the way, my wife and I stopped in Hinton and Talcott, West Virginia, to visit the Big Bend Tunnel on the C&0 Road. I don't know about John Henry, but it sure was ghostly standing in the mouth of that old tunnel! I could certainly imagine that as the sight of John Henry's work and his contest. It was a powerful experience. And speaking of imagination, I recommend Colson Whitehead's book JOHN HENRY DAYS. It's strange but fascinating, a story about the release of the commemorative stamp and the first "John Henry Days". But he manages to get everybody who has ever been important to the John Henry saga (West Virginia version) into the story. It focuses on some itinerant journalists, and is set in the present, but includes John Henry and his shaker, Lil' Bob, the steam drill, the guy who first made up the song, the guy who wrote it down and marketed it, the guy who recorded it, and Guy Johnson, the black scholar who went in search of John Henry in the '20's. There are also ghosts, cemeteries, postal employees and a stamp collector and a guy who has the largest collection of John Henry memorabilia in the world. It is fascinating how Whitehead weaves all of this together and manages to cover most of what is known about the West Virginia end of the John Henry story. It's also a story about a certain kind and breed of journalism, and a little slow getting started, at least for me, but once it's rolling it's worth it. T.